Methods of Prayer
What are some of your favorite ways to pray?
Here is an explanation of some methods:
Contemplative prayer is not for everyone, and those for whom it is not helpful should not feel they are somehow second-class. In the same way, those who genuinely do not find Bible meditation helpful should never feel that they 'ought' to be able to do it. Our enthusiasms all too often carry us away and lead to a lack of sensitivity to the fact that others may be coming from a different place. It is a question of temperament. To find the right way of prayer for us at any given time is far more important than trying to pursue a current fashion or conform to the group we happen to be in.
It follows that while most prayer groups (and individuals) will probably want to explore contemplative prayer from time to time a prayer group, which is specifically contemplative, will need to be selective in its membership.
Simple contemplative prayer is however; ‘worth a try’ since it might be helpful to many more people than we might sometimes think. If we are taking it seriously we would be wise either to have a spiritual director we can talk to or belong to a contemplative prayer group where we can share with others. It is the type of prayer where it is possible to find yourself in quite deep water and may feel bewildered.
The IDEAS TO TRY in this section are more reflective in their approach leading to an exercise which takes the first steps in contemplative prayer. (‘Towards contemplative prayer’). If you are new at this type of prayer you may well be advised to try the others first. Often people use the word 'meditation' when they really mean 'contemplation', while the Ignatian tradition uses the word 'contemplation' when it is really referring to meditation! We feel it is more helpful to stand by the traditional understanding of the two words.
By 'meditation' we are referring to the active use of the mind, the feelings, the imagination, applied to a passage of scripture, or our own situation in life, or to any active way in which we try to understand God or ourselves in relation to God or God's world. This activity BRINGS IN a great richness and may well lead us to the expression of joy or wonder, thanksgiving, penitence or intercession. BRINGING IN rather than excluding.
Contemplative prayer is almost the opposite. Some temperaments, or some people at a certain stage of their life, come to find that the ideas, the images, the imagination, the feelings, good though they are, somehow GET IN THE WAY between God and themselves. They wish to be open to God AS S/HE IS without anything getting in the way. Therefore, in contemplative prayer we try to put aside all the thoughts and ideas that come to us, and simply focus on a single word or phrase or symbol.
This is not a question of self-hypnosis or trying to imagine we are having lovely feelings. Indeed after the first few months of practicing contemplative prayer we might find ourselves in a desert of blankness, wondering whether there is any point in what we are doing and yet still unable to let go of something to which we believe we have been called. We are simply waiting upon God, being open to God, being available for God, longing towards God in a kind of inner darkness, which though dark is nevertheless friendly.
There are times when prayer comes spontaneously; in a dire emergency, a quick prayer for help; when something lovely or pleasurable has happened, a warm 'thank you' to God; a prayer for forgiveness on realizing meanness or selfishness; a prayer of awe and adoration in the face of beauty or wonder,
One part of growth in prayer is a greater awareness of the activity of God around us and in us so that those brief prayers become an ever-increasing part of our life.
When we come to prayer in a group or when we have set aside a time for personal prayer, or when we go to church, our minds or our emotions may be pre-occupied or agitated. In these conditions, it would be unrealistic to think that we can start praying immediately. In this situation, it can be helpful to prepare by attempting to let go of worries and distractions and trying to be attentive to the reality of God around us and within us. This is sometimes called ‘centering down’. You may regard this time as prayer-in-itself or simply as a preparation for prayer. It can in any event be a good place to start.
In The midst of Life:
All exercises in this section seek to affirm the importance of the ‘ordinary' - either by offering something which people can take out into their lives and use; or by offering an opportunity to sharpen their awareness of how God speaks through ordinary, everyday events.
This importance of the 'ordinary' is an important biblical insight.
In the Old Testament this can be seen with such people as Amos - to whom God spoke through the actions of a swarm of locusts (Amos 7:1-3), a man on a building site (Amos 7:7-9), and a basket of summer fruit (Amos 8: 1-3).
In the New Testament Jesus is shown to be constantly seeing the truths of God revealed in ordinary things, like the action of a sower, a fisherman, or a shepherd.
Many people find that to 'think things through on paper' allows many new ideas, insights, and attitudes to develop which otherwise might only have emerged with the help of a counselor or spiritual director. Some people maintain a regular journal, often over many years; others will keep a journal only during a retreat or at a time of stress or decision-making.
To write a journal may not seem to be an activity of prayer but 'journaling' may help people to ask the underlying question, 'Where is God in all this?' or 'Where does it seem that God may be wanting me to go in all this?' Some may find it useful to have a written dialogue with God (or with the person of Jesus if this seems easier) because this pushes us to listen, though we must beware lest we always take our own wishes to be the voice of God - it happens all too often!
One kind of blindness is a perverse refusal to accept reality or to accept our need to change in response to reality as it is. Many of us will find ourselves becoming aware of that willful kind of blindness as we try to confront the reality of God in prayer.
However, our literal physical sight can be a helpful part of prayer. It may well be sensible to counsel small children to 'shut their eyes' to pray, thereby making it less likely that little Johnny will kick Peter during assembly, but it seems a strange idea of God if we can only regard the world he has created as a distraction from prayer. Far better to use our God-given sight as an aid to prayer. Remember words (with which Christians are so easily obsessed) are one removed from reality whereas what we see is likely to be nearer to reality itself.
In the use of our eyes, as in so much else in prayer, we are brought up against our frequent inability to stop and stare and wonder - to take time. There is enough beauty in a single flower, a single piece of pottery, the shape of a tree, or a single good Christmas card to provide us with enough material for a whole prayer session.
Again, some find the use of sight, or sight with imagination, more helpful than others, but if we largely go through life with our eyes closed, it will enlarge our understanding of God if we sometimes try to 'pray with our eyes open'.
God looked on all that He had made and it was very good
If God took the time to look at it so should we... and we too shall discover that it is very good.
Music plays a part in most people's lives and can be listened to on various levels of our intellect and emotions. The successful BBC radio programmed 'Desert Island Discs' shows how important music is to individuals. Music can also be used in our prayer life in various ways.
For some music can be used as an introduction to their prayer time and maybe to round it off. For others music is prayer. An excellent example being Taizé music with its repeated phrases.
It is good to use a variety of styles and to be prepared to use 'secular' and even popular styles as well as specifically 'religious' music.
If there are any words, having them typed out is important in that it enables the group members to pray the words as they are sung.
Different types of music can be used for different topics in the prayer session, e.g. thanksgiving, penitence, petition, intercession.
It is vitally important to have good equipment for reproducing the music. It does not need to be expensive but it does need to be reliable!
To pray for people and the needs of the world is called intercession. For some people this is the only kind of prayer that they do but for others it is a form of prayer that seems particularly difficult. If God is almighty and all-knowing what is the point of putting a person or situation before him? He knows what is going to happen anyway so what is the point of asking?
In addition, our personal knowledge and understanding of a particular person and/or situation may be so limited that we are not sure what to ask God for. We read in the gospels how Jesus prayed for his disciples (Luke 22:31, John 17:19ff). He also taught them to pray. It is as if in some mysterious way God is inviting us to co-operate with him through prayer and could it be that if we choose not to pray then we cause God's power in some measure to be withheld. God is calling us, through his power, to influence the course of events; to work with him to bring about his kingdom upon earth. Intercessory prayer is not a technique for changing God's mind, but it is a way of releasing God's power through our openness to his love and concern for his creation.
Many people see intercession as praying for the sick and suffering and an important part of intercession is just that. However, it would be wrong to restrict our intercessions to only the sick and suffering. If we understand God as Creator of all that we know who sees his creation as good and who is still working to bring His creation to completion then we would naturally bring the whole of human life before the grace and direction of God.
The first assumption that we make in intercession is that we creatures have a personal relationship with God, who desires to reciprocate the response through his love and mercy for his creatures whom he elevates to the position of co-workers for the Kingdom. For Jesus' intercession was an intimate relationship with God in which he approached him as 'Abba' which we usually translate by the word 'Father', but might more accurately be translated as 'Daddy'.
If we pray ‘through Jesus Christ’ we should be aware that we are attempting to intercede in the will and the character of Christ. We are also praying in company with all the saints. Nothing is too big to pray for, nothing is too small. Prayer is not about leaving it to God and forgetting about it, when we could actually do something about it.
If our relationship with God is essentially that of childlike trust, then there is nothing that falls beyond his concern for us his children, though we need to come to terms with why intercession offered is not always answered. Jesus had to come to terms with this himself in Gethsemane (Mark 14:35 ff.).
Yours in Christ,